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When I’d heard he died I wept. That wouldn’t be odd except that there I was in my early twenties, soon to be minted from University, and the news that Fred Rogers had died hit me like a child who’d lost his dog. It was as though the very incarnation of genteelness (and a presbyterian minister!) had been a close family member.
Which I suppose he was.
He’d met me each week with a smile, invited me into his home without hesitation. He let me in on his favorite books, crafts and recipes. He’d take me on field trips to music stores humming with jazz and carpenter shops buzzing with saws. He’d introduce me to his friends like the mailman and the milkman who seemed to be just as jovial and nice as he was. And then to top it all off, he’d take me to wondrous places (on a trolley no less!) replete with kings, queens, and owls–all of whom seemed to have a similarly-sonorous voice I just couldn’t quite place.
Fred Rogers had, in a small but vital way, parented me. He’d shown me things I might never see, helped me face things I might otherwise fear. He did all that for me and the millions of children who, at that time at least, thought a grown man in a long-sleeve blue sweater might be as compelling as if he’d worn a cape. He loved us–and that’s why I’ll bet I wasn’t the only young man that day who wept at his passing because he’d been nurtured by Mr. Rogers’ love. We’d come to love a man who first loved us. And in loving us, in all his multifarious ways, he’d taught us how love has manifold forms.
Last Sunday we let the apostle John make a case for loving one another, for deep, definable, and demonstrable reasons. And we learned along the way that just as there are myriad ways to love, so the love of God is to be understood as a multi-faceted expression. We mentioned an article during Q&A (HT: Jane Peterson) composed of several lectures by D.A. Carson (lectures I had the privilege of hearing first hand while a student at seminary). Together the lectures are entitled The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God and you can read them here. My effort to link love to God’s wrath and His holiness, as only two examples, relied heavily on Carson’s patient analysis of an otherwise multi-layered dimension of God’s nature.
But as we argued at the introduction to the sermon, John’s case for loving one another was simultaneously a case for pursuing vital relationships within the church. Anonymity and superficiality run antithetical to the character and call of this love, no matter how safe those inclinations make us feel, nor how unsettling the vulnerability necessary for community may seem. Paraphrasing Cyprian of Carthage’s rather stark statement, we said that when God calls a person to Himself He calls that person to community. That is to say, life in God is life with and for God’s people.
So we made the case for community last week; this week we’ll drill down into the nature of community. We’ll do so from Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae (3:1-17), and on the premise that this kind of community is what we both fear and yet also long for. Like that first time you drove a car solo, or like that first step you took toward someone who struck your fancy–there’s a curious collision of fear and longing coincident in the move toward community as Jesus both defined and demonstrated it.
You may find the very notion of Christian community either terrifying or repulsive (or both). For all of human nature’s inclination to pursue community, the instincts to act in ways contrary to community prove equally potent. We don’t have to be taught to act with utter self-interest or to find fault if only to exonerate ourselves. But in both its proper function, and its restoration when it breaks down, there is something undeniably desirable about a people who live as Paul envisions in this passage.
So have a look at the passage and then ask yourself what’s threatening to you about the contours of this kind of community. Then ask why it might be the best thing since Mr. Rogers if it really came true among us?
We’ve been rolling out the Pastoral Backstory for around a year now. We hope it’s fulfilled its intention to tie sermons, stories, and our lives together in between Sundays. But we’ve come to realize that for it to be a true Backstory the column could benefit hearing from more of the voices of members within the community. The Backstory needs Our Story.
You need only consult the Scriptures to see the outworking of God’s intentions through often hapless plot-lines and embarrassing, if not scandalous, decisions. Those narratives form the inspired canon but they unabashedly reflect human foible. When we turn our attention to the book of Galatians in a few weeks you’ll soon see how that letter wouldn’t have been written were it not for the theological ditch a fledgling church fell into. It’s their story that provoked the apostle Paul to compose his earliest and most succinct summary of the Gospel. The historical moment served to underscore the timeless truth.
So consider this an invitation to share some of the stories from your own pilgrimage. Not airbrushed, photoshopped, spin-doctored renditions of what you think should be heard. But stories of struggle and redemption. We’ll exercise appropriate editorial oversight to ensure clarity, but we’ll take prose, poems, prayers, or paintings even–whatever aims for that sweet spot of honesty and hope, where working out your salvation has met with fear and trembling. Or if you’d prefer, let us interview you (perhaps even on film!) about something you believe puts gospel hope in personal context. And if you don’t come forward, just beware: we might come find you.
We know there are stories out there that need to be told, because we’ve been privileged to hear some of them from some of you. If you have a story–or if you’d just like to talk through the possibility of making it more public–contact us.
You heard the rumor in passing last Sunday; let the record show it’s happening for sure this Sunday. This Sunday night, July 27th, from 6-8p at the Lafferty’s (6968 Capella Park Ave), we’re going to play the CtK edition of The “Newlywed” Game. Four hapless couples will compete to see which duo can best predict one another’s answers–all with a prize on the line.
A special guest will be on hand to stand in for Bob Eubanks, and a prize will be awarded to the most telepathic couple. Your ticket of admission is some sort of dessert. So bring a confection and then enjoy the matrimonial tension on full display.
Whatever happens Sunday night, pray this doesn’t. Our rules aren’t prepared for the eventuality: